Port of Kennewick passes its budget, minus some expected costs

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldOctober 24, 2012 

The 2013 budget unanimously approved by Port of Kennewick commissioners Tuesday doesn't necessarily include all of the costs associated with two large public records requests and a potential lawsuit.

But the port isn't going to rewrite the budget yet based on issues currently in flux, Port Executive Director Tim Arntzen told commissioners.

Arntzen previously told commissioners that the port needed to reshuffle priorities to deal with the record requests, a potential lawsuit and a Vista Field Airport study.

Carl Cadwell's Spokane attorney, Nicholas Kovarik, recently asked for a meeting with the port to discuss damages he claims Cadwell Laboratories sustained because of the port's attempt to close Vista Field.

Kovarik submitted a records request for his client asking for 22 items related to Vista Field, as well as Clover Island, and employment contracts and travel expenses for some port employees.

Arntzen said the second records request is more in-depth than the one the port received more than a year ago from attorney John Ziobro, which asks for other expense and travel records. Ziobro has not named his client.

Arntzen estimates those requests are taking up 60 percent to 70 percent of some staff members' time.

The budget sets aside 1.5 percent from operating and non-operating expenses for public records. Tammy Fine, the port's finance director and auditor, said that would be about $50,000 for next year.

From 2011, until Oct. 1, the port has spent about $90,000 to answer record requests, she said.

Arntzen said they hope to reach an agreement with Cadwell and avoid a lawsuit. And it would be nice to see the end of the broad record requests, although he said he expects both to drag on for a while.

Fine said it could take the port beyond 2013 to answer the requests as currently written. They have asked the requesters to clarify what documents they are looking for.

Ramsey Ramerman, an Everett attorney, explained that a government can be sued for not searching hard enough or for overlooking a record. They have to go with the broad version of a request unless a requester clarifies it. And relevance isn't important, he said.

Port commission President Skip Novakovich said if the attorneys know what they are doing with the records request, it is nothing but "harassment."

Still, the port will focus on those priorities and then fill in from the 2013 work plan as resources are available, Novakovich said.

Novakovich said hopefully the port will have a better idea after the port's attorney Lucinda Luke meets with Cadwell and his attorney next week.

While some projects already under contract will be finished, such as remodeling the Oak Street Industrial Park incubator buildings and the research and development building near Vista Field, Arntzen said he wanted commissioners to be prepared for other projects to be delayed.

And projects like lighting a Christmas tree, repainting the pathways on Clover Island and providing $4,000 to the Clover Island concert series are things that won't likely be done next year, Arntzen said. While small, each adds up in both staff time and cost.

"Your manager is going to be doing some things that may not be popular," he said.

Novakovich said it only is prudent to take these steps, despite not liking them.

West Richland Councilman Brent Gerry said, "The real victims of these unjustified huge requests of records are the taxpayers and the citizens of the Port of Kennewick."

The port plans a special public meeting at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the port's offices with Ramerman and the state archivist about public records.

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